By Jack Roberts
MHSAA executive director
At end of season or school year banquets attended by student-athletes and their parents, I often tell this short story about my mother that never fails to get a good laugh, especially from mothers:
“At the end of my junior year of high school I attended the graduation ceremony for the senior class on a hot and humid early June evening in our stuffy high school gymnasium. The bleachers on each side were filled to capacity, as were several hundred folding chairs placed on the gymnasium floor.
“The public address system, which was wonderful for announcing at basketball games or wrestling meets, was awful for graduation speeches. Person after person spoke, and the huge audience wondered what they had to say.
“I was present because I was the junior class president; and as part of the ceremony, the senior class president handed me a small shovel. It had something to do with accepting responsibility or carrying on tradition.
“In any event, the senior class president spoke briefly; and then it was my turn. I stepped to the podium, pushed the microphone to the side, and spoke in a voice that was heard and understood in every corner of the gymnasium.
“Whereupon my mother, sitting in one of the folding chairs, positioned right in front of my basketball coach – who had benched me for staying out too late on the night before a game, because I had to attend a required school play rehearsal – my mother turned around, pointed her finger at the coach and said, ‘See there? That’s what he learned at play practice!’
“And she was heard in every corner of the gymnasium too.
“But my mother knew – she just knew – that for me, play practice was as important as basketball practice. And she was absolutely correct.”
This old but true story about in-season demands of school sports actually raises two of the key issues of the debate about out-of-season coaching rules.
One is that we are not talking only about sports. School policies should not only protect and promote opportunities for students to participate in more than one sport; they should also allow for opportunities for students to participate in the non-athletic activities that comprehensive, full-service schools provide.
This is because surveys consistently link student achievement in school as well as success in later life with participation in both the athletic and non-athletic activities of schools. Proper policies permit students time to study, time to practice and play sports and time to be engaged in other school activities that provide opportunities to learn and grow as human beings.
A second issue the story presents is that parents have opinions about what is best for their children. In fact, they feel even more entitled to express those opinions today than my mother did almost 50 years ago. In fact, today, parents believe they are uniquely entitled to make the decisions that affect their children. And often they take the attitude that everyone else should butt out of their business!
The MHSAA knows from direct experience that while school administrators want tighter controls on what coaches and students do out of season, and that most student-athletes and coaches will at least tolerate the imposed limits, parents will be highly and emotionally critical of rules that interfere with how they raise their children.
No matter the cost in time or money to join elite teams, take private lessons, travel to far-away practices and further-away tournaments, no matter how unlikely any of this provides the college athletic scholarship return on investment that parents foolishly pursue, those parents believe they have every right to raise their own children their own way and that it’s not the MHSAA’s business to interfere.
It is for this very reason that MHSAA rules have little to say about what students can and can’t do out of season. Instead, the rules advise member schools and their employees what schools themselves have agreed should be the limits. The rules do this to promote competitive balance. They do this in order to avoid never-ending escalating expense of time and money to keep up on the competitive playing field, court, pool, etc.
Every example we have of organized competitive sports is that, in the absence of limits, some people push the boundaries as far as they can for their advantage, which forces other people to go beyond what they believe is right in order to keep up.
If, during the discussions on out-of-season rules, someone suggests that certain policies be eliminated, thinking people will pause to ask what life would be like without those rules.
Our outcome cannot be mere elimination of regulation, which invites chaos; the objective must be shaping a different future.
A good start would be simpler, more understandable and enforceable rules. A bad ending would be if it forces more student-athletes and school coaches to focus on a single sport year-round.
Denny White brought quite a bit to the Marysville and St. Clair communities.
In 1961, as a junior in high school, White was part of the first team to bring a football state title to Marysville.
Fifty years later, as an assistant coach, he played a vital role in bringing St. Clair its first MHSAA Finals title in baseball.
During the years in between, and decade after, White brought his knowledge of and passion for those sports to hundreds of student athletes.
But most recently, he brought the two communities together.
This past Friday night, the rival schools played for the Denny White Trophy, an award created to honor the late coach and connect the two communities where he was most revered.
“I’m so happy with all the support that has been around the project,” said Brady Beedon, a family friend who helped to create the trophy and was in the booth calling Friday night’s game for Get Stuck On Sports. “It’s the least we could’ve done for a man who helped so many athletes. His legacy deserves to be preserved.”
In a fitting tribute to White, who died Jan. 22 of this year following a long battle with cancer, the two teams played a hard-fought game at East China Stadium, with White’s alma mater Marysville coming away with a 25-20 victory.
Both teams featured players who had been coached by White at some point in one or both of the sports, as his time on the bench lasted through the fall of 2022.
That season, he coached the JV B football team at Marysville. Most recently before that, he had been the varsity baseball coach at St. Clair from 2015-21.
“Not much can unify rivals, but Coach White’s influence goes beyond that rivalry,” Marysville football coach Derrick Meier said at a press conference unveiling the trophy. “He’s affected thousands of local athletes. … It is awesome that someone had such an influence across the board with all local athletes (in multiple) sports. I contacted him my first year coaching varsity, and he was not willing to leave where he was at. I called him three subsequent years; he graciously declined. The last year he did accept, we added a JV B team, his wisdom and knowledge went well beyond just coaching on the field. We’re all lucky for his influence.
“Heroes get remembered. Coach White will be remembered.”
White was a 1963 graduate of Marysville, who then attended Ferris State and Central Michigan. His coaching journey did not begin in the area where he grew up, however, as he coached baseball and football at Newaygo High School before coming to St. Clair.
He spent 35 years in the Saints athletic program, coaching baseball and multiple levels of football.
Much of his time was spent as the pitching coach for St. Clair for coaches Richie Mallewitz and Bill McElreath. That included the 2011 season, when his pitching staff included current major leaguer Jacob Cronenworth, who now plays second base for the San Diego Padres.
Also on that staff were Joel Seddon, who was drafted twice – once out of high school and again after college – and would go on to be the closer at South Carolina; and Jared Tobey, who pitched at Wayne State and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, playing four years in their minor league system.
While White coached nearly 1,000 baseball games in his career, he was involved with more than just high school sports. He also coached a 13-year-old Little League team to a state title and the semifinals of the Great Lakes Regional in 2015.
No matter the level, White poured all he had into coaching, and that included his final season on the sidelines at Marysville, just months prior to his passing.
“Every single kid that he touched with that team, you could just tell, gravitated toward him immediately,” said Travis Disser, who coached with White that final year at Marysville. “His lessons and his light-hearted humor are just something that you can’t replace, or ever hope to. I was lucky enough to learn pitching from Coach White when I was a younger kid, as well. He was the exact same Denny White as he was all those years ago, as he was last year during his battle with cancer. Coach White was a warrior in every sense of the term. His lessons, both on the field and off the field from him, are something that I’ll never, ever forget.”
The idea to create the trophy honoring White came about not long after his death, as Beedon worked with Meier, former St. Clair athletic director Denny Borse and St. Clair assistant football coach T.J. Schindler to create and design the trophy.
The final product is a two-tiered trophy topped with a pair White’s hats – one from St. Clair, the other from Marysville – that have been bronzed. It includes the years in which he won his state titles at his respective schools, and a passage about his life. There is also room to list the yearly winners, as it is planned to represent the rivalry and shared respect for White in the two communities for years to come.
“Whether it was Little League kids over the last 20 years, or some of the football players and baseball players that he coached over the decades that he coached, all of them when they get together have great stories and fondness for all the memories that (White and his fellow coaches) helped them create,” said Sandy Rutledge, the current St. Clair athletic director and a longtime friend and colleague of White. “I think it’s awesome that now as we play for this trophy every year, it will give our coaches a chance to kind of explain who Coach was. The next generation, maybe they didn’t even know him, will know that he is a legend, and he’ll always be remembered.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) From left: St. Clair’s Larry Wawryzniak, Liam Nesbitt and Peyton Ellis, Denny White’s wife Karen White, and Marysville’s Bryce Smith, Carter Saccucci and Caz Carty stand with the first-year traveling trophy celebrating Denny White’s coaching career. (Middle) White was a mainstay in the area’s sports community for more than six decades. (Below) The trophy celebrates his contributions to both schools and will list the winners of their annual football game. (Trophy photos courtesy of Brady Beedon. Headshot courtesy of the White family.)